Interview with Minister Pyne - Fran Kelly, Radio National, Breakfast, 16 March 2017

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The Hon Christopher Pyne MP

Minister for Defence Industry

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16 March 2017

Fran Kelly, Radio National, Breakfast, 16 March 2017

SUBJECTS: Snowy Hydro announcement, innovation fund to improve Australia’s Defence capabilities, new technologies fund, cyber security, ACTU secretary Sally McManus’ comments and gas export supplies.

FRAN KELLY: Well, the Federal Government is also announcing today a new $730 million innovation fund which aims to improve Australia’s defence capabilities in a world where chemical and biological hazards are the new threats. Christopher Pyne is the Defence Industry’s Minister, Minister, welcome back to Breakfast.

CHRISTOPHER PYNE: Good morning, Fran.

FRAN KELLY: I’ll come to your defence technology fund in a moment. But can I first go to the Snowy Hydro announcement. This is $2 billion investment to expand the Snowy by up to 50 per cent. The Prime Minister says it’s a game-changer. Is that in energy security terms and political terms?

CHRISTOPHER PYNE: Well it’s certainly a game changer in terms of energy in to the National Grid. It’s an incredibly exciting announcement and proves that with proper thinking and a considered approach the Federal Government can make the changes that are necessary to ensure we have the stability of energy supply at the prices that consumers and businesses can afford. And in this case with renewable energy. I mean the idea of being able to power 500,000 more homes and put 2000 megawatts of power into the National Grid using pumped hydro is a national vision and Malcolm Turnbull is the person who is going to make it happen and that’s very exciting.

FRAN KELLY: You’re a proud South Australian and your state’s all about renewable energy at the moment. The Federal Government says in this announcement on the Snowy Hydro scheme that it will generate 20 times the electricity that Jay Weatherill is promising to deliver from South Australian investment in a 100 megawatt battery storage system. But as Paul Broad just told us this will certainly help keep the lights on in Victoria and New South Wales, it won’t help keep the lights on in South Australia will it?

CHRISTOPHER PYNE: Yes it will because it flows right through the national electricity market and pumped hydro is renewable energy. It is more reliable because over night you pump the water up the hill using perhaps wind power for example and then during the day you let the water go down the hill and you create the energy you need. If you put 2000 megawatts more into the national energy grid then of course the South Australians who rely on the interconnector from Victoria are going to have more stable supply because there is more in the market. 

FRAN KELLY: But why bother pointing this out they’re just going to have 20 times the capacity than the battery storage of South Australia’s announcement. Is the Government federally suggesting Australia shouldn’t invest in battery storage?

CHRISTOPHER PYNE: Well battery storage is another good investment. And we have an all the above approach to energy security in Australia. What South Australian Government has done is announce $550 million to say sorry to South Australians for their monumental failure in energy policy in South Australia.

FRAN KELLY: So you don’t support the Premier’s plan?

CHRISTOPHER PYNE: Oh not at all. I mean it’s a disastrous plan Fran. He’s going to spend $360 million on a state-owned gas fired power station which is going to work for five days a year. Now, it is another Weatherill white elephant. And the more we’re finding out about it, the more detail we’re finding out about it, the more disastrous it is. And if he’d simply stayed with working with the Federal Government which Josh Frydenberg was trying to do, he would have known that we were going to announce such a significant investment in the national energy market as the second phase of the Snowy Hydro scheme. But unfortunately going it alone is going to slug South Australian taxpayers with a new half a billion dollar tax.

FRAN KELLY: Well relations between the South Australian Government and the Federal Government haven’t been great in recent times over energy. Back to the Snowy investment, the $2 billion investment, is that taxpayer funds or will it be private money help funding the expansion?

CHRISTOPHER PYNE: Well the Prime Minister later this morning will make the official announcement with all of the details in terms of jobs and costs and timelines and so forth. So I won’t steal his thunder. But suffice to say it is a very exciting development and proves that the Federal Government is making the policy decisions that are securing Australia’s economic future.

FRAN KELLY: Minister, can I come to your area now this announcement of this $730 million new generation technologies fund. It’s been described as a multimillion dollar war chest to help create super troops for the Defence Force. What is it going to do this fund?

CHRISTOPHER PYNE: Well this is another great announcement from the Government; $730 million to invest in Next Generation Technologies through the Defence, Science and Technology Group. We have to make sure that our soldiers and our airmen and our navy personnel are protected from the new modern types of warfare and even types of warfare that we don’t know about yet in areas like cyber security and space capability. So, this will allow the innovation, research to be done with the collaboration between universities, researchers, the DSTG, into nine different areas that we’ve identified as being future challenges and then the Defence Innovation Hub which I started last December, which is $640 million will hopefully commercialise those research innovations and earn treasure and jobs for Australia.

FRAN KELLY: So, just reading from your personal release it says the first program of this fund will be Grand Challenges where Defence puts forward a problem with no easy solutions and asks Australians to come up with an answer. So that’s – what are we talking about? Is it Blue Sky thinking, is it- I mean certainly there’s a lot of risk involved in that. Is this the Federal Government basically funding the risk?

CHRISTOPHER PYNE: Well, one of the ways that researchers operate these days of course is to have a- basically a day or two or three of war gaming possible threats. In this case the first grand challenge is counter emerging and new improvised threats. So we know that improvised threats are things like road-side bombs but they’re also chemical and biological attacks on our troops. And we get the researchers together, we get the smart people together who understand these areas and we ask them what possibly could happen and what could our solutions be. And then we go away and start working on the solutions and that’s what the first grand challenge is going to be.

FRAN KELLY: And presumably cyber security, that’s been identified as the major challenge emerging, is cyber security part of this?

CHRISTOPHER PYNE: Yes, we’ll be announcing today and $7.5 million investment to be led by the CSIRO’s Data61 which is one of their very high-powered research groups into cyber security research and that will partner with the ANU and the University of South Australia and others as well to increase the funding to do with cyber security threats because obviously they have the capacity to cripple parts of the economy and of course parts of the Defence establishment.

FRAN KELLY: You’re listening to RN Breakfast. Its 10 minutes to eight. Our guest is the Minister for Defence Industries and Leader of the House, Christopher Pyne.

Minister, on another issue. Sally McManus is the new Secretary of the ACTU, day one and she’s already drawn fire for the following comments she made last night on 7.30. Let’s listen.


SALLY MCMANUS: Yeah, I believe in the rule of law where the law’s fair, when the law’s right, but when it’s unjust I don’t think there’s a problem with breaking it.

[End of excerpt]

FRAN KELLY:  That’s the new ACTU secretary Sally McManus. What do you want her to do? Withdrawal that comment, clarify what she meant? You’ve been very critical of her saying that. What’s your issue there?

CHRISTOPHER PYNE: Well Fran, what Sally McManus has said is the kind of anarcho Marxist claptrap we use to hear from anarchists at Adelaide University in the 1980s. The reality is the rule of law is required to be followed by all Australians otherwise we’ll have chaos. The fact that this new secretary of ACTU could even say such an absurd thing indicates that she is not capable of doing the job. She should…

FRAN KELLY: Well, hang on can we just step back a little bit because anarcho Marxist, I’m not sure whether- I mean to put the full context around what she was saying, she was talking about laws that stopped unions striking illegal but unions go out on strike when someone for instance is killed on a work site or there’s workplace safety issues. Does that put a little more context around this?

CHRISTOPHER PYNE: Every citizen Fran needs to abide by the law. Every citizen has to abide by the law. That’s how our western democracy works. That’s why Australia’s a great country. And this kind ideological gobbledygook from the secretary of the ACTU only proves that the ACTU has not moved on, has not changed from their past of trying to disrupt workplaces, trying to disrupt our economy. And if that’s what the secretary of the ACTU thinks, she has no place being there and she should resign and give the job to someone who has a modern forward looking view of the relationship between employers and employees. We’re not in the 1980s arts class at Adelaide University anymore.

FRAN KELLY: You’re listening to RN Breakfast. Just one final question. Back to energy, Minister. The Prime Minister was muscling up on the gas company yesterday. He repeated a number of times the Commonwealth has enormous power in this area of exports – talking about gas export supplies. How serious is the threat hanging over the gas industry of federal intervention in this notion of gas reservation?

CHRISTOPHER PYNE: Well the Government will use whatever levers it has at its disposal to ensure we have energy security and gas security in Australia. And we have a situation where a lot of our gas is being exported overseas and if that threatens our own domestic supply then the Government is in a position to use its levers to make sure that that doesn’t happen.

FRAN KELLY: So if it came to it- would you support the Government putting in place some kind of reservation policy?

CHRISTOPHER PYNE: Well the gas companies have given us a gas supply guarantee that they will never let that happen.

FRAN KELLY: That’s not going to help price is it?

CHRISTOPHER PYNE: Well, it will certainly guarantee that they will not let gas run out for our businesses and homes in Australia. Now, if they don’t keep their word then the Government has every right to use the powers at its disposal under the constitution to protect Australia first.

FRAN KELLY: Minister, thank you very much for joining us.

CHRISTOPHER PYNE: It’s a pleasure, Fran.

FRAN KELLY: Christopher Pyne is the Minister for Defence Industry and the Leader of the House.

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